King Solomon at Gezer

Monumental architecture confirms biblical claims

Six-chambered city gate at Gezer. Courtesy Tel Gezer Excavation Project

This six-chambered city gate at Gezer exemplifies the large-scale building program of the biblical king Solomon (1 Kings 9). Together with the adjacent administrative building, it reflects the importance of the site as a fortified center already in the tenth century. Courtesy Tel Gezer Excavation Project.

The biblical account of King Solomon’s many accomplishments mentions that the king fortified Jerusalem, Hazor, Megiddo, and Gezer, and that he rebuilt several other sites “in all the land of his dominion” (1 Kings 9:15–19). Whether King Solomon was a historical figure or a construct of later generations, the question remains whether these royal cities were important and monumentally built centers already in the tenth century, the time of the biblical king.

Writing for the Summer 2024 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review, Steven Ortiz and Samuel Wolff in their article “Solomon’s Powerplay” present “new archaeological evidence from Gezer that in the time of Solomon, the city did indeed boast a monumental gate and administrative complex that was meant to convey power and authority over newly acquired territories in the Shephelah.”

Map showing the location of Gezer in the foothills between the coastal plain and the Judean hill country, Courtesy Biblical Archaeology Society

Located in the foothills between the coastal plain and the Judean hill country, some archaeologists believe Gezer was already a fortified administrative center in the time of King Solomon. Courtesy Biblical Archaeology Society.

The most recent excavators of Gezer and co-directors of the Tel Gezer Excavation Project (2006–2017), Ortiz and Wolff first offer an overview of Gezer’s earlier history. Referring to their previous BAR article, they remind readers that at the close of the Late Bronze Age, in the late 13th century BCE, Gezer was a thriving Canaanite city, when it was suddenly destroyed by the Egyptian Pharaoh Merneptah. It was then rebuilt and, according to the Bible (1 Kings 9:16), ultimately given by an Egyptian pharaoh as a dowry for his daughter, Solomon’s wife.

So what does the archaeological evidence have to say about Solomonic Gezer? “It was during Solomon’s reign, in the mid-tenth century, that Gezer underwent a radical change. It became a well-fortified city with a massive six-chambered gate, an adjoining casemate wall, and a large administrative building,” write Ortiz and Wolff. Their excavations “confirm that during the tenth century, Gezer was a fortified city most likely administered by a royal authority.”

Aerial photo of monumental architecture at Solomonic Gezer overlaid with graphic outlining a massive gate (blue), a large administrative building (purple), and a casemate wall. Courtesy Tel Gezer Excavation Project.

Monumental architecture at Solomonic Gezer included a massive gate (blue), a large administrative building (purple), and a casemate wall. Courtesy Tel Gezer Excavation Project.

The monumental gate is nearly identical to fortifications previously excavated at other contemporary royal cities, such as Hazor and Megiddo. It had three chambers on each side, two strong towers, and an underground drainage channel running in the center. Integrated into the southern section of Gezer’s casemate wall, it was immediately adjacent to a large administrative building, which was similar in design to bit hilani-style palace architecture known from other sites in the Levant. It measured more than 60 by 40 feet and consisted of a spacious central courtyard surrounded by at least 15 rooms. Unlike most Near Eastern palaces, however, it was not built on the acropolis and had only minimal evidence for domestic use, while some of its rooms featured olive presses, grinding surfaces, and clay ovens. Ortiz and Wolff, therefore, conclude it was not a palace but rather an administrative building operated by royal officials stationed on the western periphery of Judah.

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But this new administrative center of the expanding Judahite state ultimately met its end in yet another violent destruction. Dated to the mid- to late tenth century, this destruction of Gezer was likely due to the military campaign through the southern Levant by the Egyptian pharaoh Shoshenq I (943–923 BCE), the biblical King Shishak. The monumental architecture of Solomonic Gezer ended up buried under a thick layer of rubble, until the first modern excavations in the early 20th century.

Collapsed walls and boulders in the administrative building at Gezer. Courtesy Tel Gezer Excavation Project.

Collapsed walls and boulders in the administrative building at Gezer point to a destructive event that can be attributed to Pharaoh Shoshenq I, who campaigned in the southern Levant in c. 925 BCE. Courtesy Tel Gezer Excavation Project.

Given the lack of any archaeological evidence in Gezer’s tenth-century strata that would suggest a bloody battle between city defenders and the Egyptians, Ortiz and Wolff speculate that the Judahite administrators of Gezer abandoned the site prior to its destruction, simply retreating to the capital in Jerusalem.

To explore in detail the clues that Solomonic Gezer was a fortified center and how it was destroyed in the late tenth century, read Ortiz and Wolff’s article “Solomon’s Powerplay,” published in the Summer 2024 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.

Subscribers: Read the full article “Solomon’s Powerplay,” by Steven Ortiz and Samuel Wolff, in the Summer 2024 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.

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Related reading in Bible History Daily:

Searching for Solomon

Pharaoh Merneptah’s Destruction of Gezer

All-Access members, read more in the BAS Library:

Pharaoh’s Fury: Merneptah’s Destruction of Gezer

Solomon’s Egyptian Bride: Artful Alliance or Biblical Boast?

Solomon’s Temple in Context

Nebuchadnezzar & Solomon: Parallel Lives Illuminate History

Not a BAS Library or All-Access Member yet? Join today.

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